Welcome to Grinnell's first course in biology, Bio-150 Introduction to Biological Inquiry! As a consequence of our growing understanding of how people best learn scientific principles, we have designed this course to be distinct from most college introductory biology courses. You have probably noticed that each section focuses on a different biological problem: instead of expecting all students taking Bio 150 to learn exactly the same list of biological facts, we expect all students to practice the same skills, while investigating interesting biological questions. It's not that facts are unimportant: they are fundamental to investigating and understanding life. Research on learning shows, however, that people are more likely to remember facts, understand concepts and apply them to new situations when they use them. For this reason, all sections of Bio 150 feature the following common elements:
QUESTIONS -- From the title and description of your section, you probably have some idea of the questions your section will focus upon. Each instructor chose a topic near to her/his own research interests, so s/he will be expert in helping you define interesting and answerable questions.
DESIGN -- Throughout the course, your instructors will ask you to design investigations that address your specific questions. Through this process, we hope you will learn both the power and the limitations of scientific methods in biological explanation, so you'll be able to evaluate the results of other scientific investigations in the future.
OBSERVATIONS -- Answering questions in science involves comparing predictions with observations. You will learn to use a large array of tools (both fancy and simple) that allow us to observe in new ways or with more precision than our own senses allow. In most cases you will be asked to quantify your observations, since this is the most convincing way to test predictions.
ANALYSIS -- What do your observations say about your question? Analysis involves comparing predictions with observations to make a conclusion. With quantitative observations, this involves evaluation of your confidence in your conclusion, using the tools of statistical reasoning.
COMMUNICATION -- A critical part of doing science well is communicating effectively with other scientists. You will spend a lot of time working on ways to represent your observations graphically and to communicate your results. At the end of the course, we will have a joint poster session, at which you will get a chance to see what students in other sections have been doing.
ETHICS -- Good science, and good policy informed by science, depends on both the reliability of the scientific process and the scientist's awareness of other areas of human concern affected by the results. In this course, you'll become familiar with standards regarding the ethics of practicing and communicating science, and many of you will discuss how scientific results may be relevant to social issues.
The philosophy behind this course is that you will learn more effectively by practicing. This goes for biology as much as for playing a musical instrument or a sport. By grounding your learning in authentic research questions, we also hope you will be motivated to practice very hard, so that you will be confident in your abilities when the semester is long past. That is how we, as teachers and scholars, keep up with the incredible change and growth in biological knowledge over our own lifetimes. If you go on to the 200-level biology courses, you'll find that your practice in Bio 150 has prepared you for the task of understanding organisms by integrating ideas from across the spectrum of biological sub-disciplines. And, if you don't intend to major in biology, we are certain that Bio 150 will provide you with critical analytical tools needed to interpret the results of biological research in your daily life. We hope all of you will be prepared to learn what you need to know to evaluate the biology of your future.